The First Black Woman Elected To The Mississippi Legislature, Rep. Alyce Clarke, Is Stepping Down After Serving 38 Years
Democratic Rep. Alyce Clarke, the first Black woman elected to the Mississippi Legislature, will not seek another term. Clarke, who has served in her position for 38 years, announced her decision on Tuesday, NBC News reports.
“You can’t make a difference unless you’re at the table. And I’m glad we finally got to the table,” Clarke told The Associated Press shortly after making her announcement.
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The 83-year-old, who took her seat after winning a special election in 1985, was the only Black woman in the Legislature until 1987. That’s when Democrat Alice Harden of Jackson, Mississippi won a seat in the state Senate.
When Clarke took her position in the 1980s, the men had a restroom near the House chamber on the Capitol’s third floor. The women, however, had to go to restrooms on another floor. Clarke, who was initially using a public restroom on the first floor, said she noticed a House staff member giving a key to a white female colleague for a private women’s restroom on the second floor.
Shortly after Clarke reported the problem to the media, female lawmakers were given the same restroom access as their male colleagues. The new the women’s room was installed in a space previously used for the men’s shoeshine stand.
Clarke pushed for a lot more during her career. Her legacy includes the Born Free program, a drug and alcohol treatment center for pregnant women. The Mississippi representative also helped establish the state’s first drug courts, providing supervision, drug testing and treatment services to help keep people out of prison.
Clarke advocated for a state lottery for nearly 20 years before the legislation passed in 2018. The bill has ultimately created a lottery to help pay for highways.
Democratic Rep. Ed Blackmon, who shared a two-person desk with Clarke in the House chamber for many years, said her longtime colleague has always been persistent.
“She bothers you — I’ll put it that way,” Blackmon told NBC News. “But she’s real nice in the way she bothers you.”